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NJ: Vote delayed on Megan's Law Website.

November 21, 2000

The state Assembly postponed a vote yesterday on a bill that would put sex offenders' names and photographs on the Internet, acting on concerns by real estate agents that the measure might leave them open to lawsuits.

The measure -- prompted by a constitutional amendment approved by New Jersey voters two weeks ago -- would broaden Megan's Law notifications by putting the information online.

But the New Jersey Association of Realtors said that with the information so easily accessible, agents might be held liable if they did not tell home buyers and renters about sex offenders living nearby.

So instead of moving forward with the measure, the Assembly delayed a vote and amended it to clear real estate agents of any liability.

"There is no obligation on the part of the realtor to make that disclosure under the current statute," said Assemblyman Joel Weingarten (R-Essex), one of the bill's sponsors. "We're trying to continue that practice."

Weingarten said he expects the Assembly to pass the bill next month.

Under Megan's Law, real estate agents would not normally know of sex offenders living near properties that are for sale, said Walter Baczkowski, executive vice president of the New Jersey Association of Realtors.

Even if they did know, Megan's Law bars realtors from telling clients, he said.

The amendment passed yesterday leaves it to home buyers and renters to check the Web site themselves.

"It clarifies it to make it absolutely clear: 'Here it is, go look for it if you're interested,'" Baczkowski said.

In addition to names and photographs, the Web site would list home addresses of all sex offenders who are deemed high- or moderate-risks to communities. It would also give risk levels, a description of their crimes, and their age, race, sex, date of birth, height, weight, hair and eye color.

At the end of September, there were 120 high-risk and 1,835 moderate risk sex offenders registered in New Jersey. Under the bill, anyone with Internet access and enough time would be able to get a description of every one of them.

The Internet list would be more limited with the state's 2,553 low-risk sex offenders. Under current law, their whereabouts are disclosed only to local police departments.

The bill would change the rules for low-risk offenders to let employers and youth group leaders screen potential workers or volunteers.

Someone with an applicant's name and another piece of identifying information, such as his date of birth or Social Security number, would be able to type that into a computer and find out whether that person was a registered sex offender.

Source: New Jersey Online/The Star Ledger, by David Kinney and Robert Schwaneberg.